10 Tips Toward Your Successful Building Permit Submittal

Success to obtain Building PermitNavigating the building permit process can be thought of as one of the more onerous tasks a homeowner or builder will carry out or, with proper preparation, a necessary task to be carried out relatively effortlessly and with minimal stress. Whether you are a homeowner who prepared your own plans, one who has hired a drafting service and is now doing the legwork necessary to submitting for building permits, or a building contractor who prepared drawings for that homeowner and now is submitting an application on their behalf, here are 10 tips to help your permit intake meeting go smoothly and efficiently.

Naturally, you’d done your homework before you drew up your plans i.e. discussed your proposed project with your regulatory agency’s project planner and building department’s technical staff to ascertain their requirements and your project’s feasibility. Having done your homework and prepared your submittal package, there still may be dozens of checklists to navigate, myriad layers of review processing, and an ever-changing panorama of building permit processing rules, policies, and procedures. Now that its time for you to submit for permits, what steps can you take to make this process proceed as smoothly and efficiently as possible?

Tip #1: Know Your Project
Make time review your drawings. Whether you prepared them yourself or hired a drafter, refresh yourself as to their content. By prepared to provide a succinct description of what you are building. How many square feet is it?  Is it new construction, a renovation or an alteration?  The more you are familiar with your project, the better you can field questions and prepare the types of forms required.

Tip #2: Know Your Building Department
Whether you are a regular or have never been to this building department before, take the time to review their website.  What is their physical address?  What are their hours?  Are forms available for download online?  Review their FAQ page.  How many sets of plans are required?  And even if you seem to be able discover these things online, regulatory agency’s websites are almost always out-of-date. Call them and speak to them directly to verify, and don’t assume anything.

Tip #3: Coordinate Your Consultant’s Work Product
If you’ve done your homework in preparing your documentation, the building department will have already instructed you as to any ancillary reports necessary, even before the first line of your drawings was set to paper. Ancillary reports and other documentation might include for instance geotechnical report, energy analysis report, supporting structural analysis, etc. You should have all of these on hand and in good order. You should know how many copies of each will be required. Finally, you should obtain and compile wet-signed (hard copies signed by the responsible consultant) of each required report.

Tip #4: Have Your Paperwork Ready
Ideally, you should prepare any forms you know are needed & have them compiled before you go your meeting with the building department.  Complete all required information, and do not go to the building department without it. Proceeding in this fashion, you can use their required forms as a checklist, thus assuring your documentation (drawings and other data) are comprehensive and as necessary to the purpose, that of obtaining building permits. Going through this step will save you the hassle of having to take your intake meeting twice.

Tip #5: Review Signatures
Who needs to sign the application forms?  If you are the property owner, you are the person qualified to make the submittal. If you are the contractor acting on the owner’s behalf, you should anticipate that you will need to bring along the regulatory agency’s owner-agent form, properly executed, qualifying you as the applicant acting behalf of the owner.

Tip #6: Show Me the Money
With rare exception, building departments require a upfront fee or a deposit when submitting for a permit. Firstly, if you’ve done you’re homework, you’ll already be prepared for sticker shock. Secondly, on a practical level, you’ll want to be prepared whether you’ll pay with a check or with credit card. If paying with credit card, firstly be aware that not all jurisdictions accept same. Next, be aware that those that do will probably assess a handling charge adding between 2% – 5% to your intake fee.

Tip #7: Use Your Time Efficiently
When you visit a building department, chances are you will have to wait to be called upon.  Be sure to bring some kind of homework to work on, whether it’s paying your monthly bills or planning your next vacation. Also, bring your cell phone charger, but be aware that not all jurisdictions have wifi, and that many jurisdictions actually prohibit cellphone use in their lobbies.

Tip #8: Smile
Having a smile when you are dealing with anyone sets the tone.  Smile, say good morning/afternoon & let the building representative know you appreciate them giving you good service.

Tip #9: Be Honest
If a clerk or reviewer asks you for something you were not prepared for, or tells you something that you do not fully understand, don’t wing it.  Politely ask them to clarify what they think is needed so that you have a comprehensive understanding of what is needed. If you have done your homework, and this is something unexpected, it is usually worth the wait to elevate the conversation to the intake’s staff supervisor, if only to obtain 100% certainty as to what other materials are deemed necessary to a comprehensive submittal.

Tip #10: Follow-Up
Once you successfully submit your application, don’t let it languish. Usually the individual who processed your intake will be your point-of-contact during the course of permit processing. Get your intake person’s name and contract information, stay in touch with them, and check in frequently as to how your project is tracking. If your local regulatory agency is posting application processing online, understand how to link to the online application and check it regularly.

For Further Reading:
For Further Reading:
Resources for further research into successful permit processing include:
• “Welcome to Santa Cruz County Planning”: http://www.sccoplanning.com/PlanningHome/Welcome!.aspx
• Online Permits and Services, City of Santa Cruz: http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/government/city-departments/planning-and-community-development/online-permits-services
• “When is a Building Permit required”, County of Santa Clara: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/dpd/Iwantto/Permits/Pages/BP.aspx
• “Navigating the Treacherous and Tumultuous San Francisco Permitting Process”, https://sf.curbed.com/2013/4/3/10257506/navigating-the-treacherous-and-tumultuous-san-francisco-permitting

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